Alleged baby brokering arrests are expected

The Baton Rouge Advocate
October 30, 1987

A Baton Rouge legal secretary is expected to turn herself in to authorities this afternoon after an arrest warrant was issued in connection with an alleged baby brokering case in Pennsylvania, the secretary's lawyer said this morning.

An arrest warrant was issued for Karen Prejean, 34, whose address is listed as her place of work at 715 St. Ferdinand, and for Richard Gitelman, 45, of Coral Springs, Fla., on counts of interfering with the custody of a child and conspiracy to interfere with the custody of a child, said Mary Pruss, assistant district attorney in Greene County.

The pair is accused of enticing Rebekah Lin Dulik, 17, of Nemacolin, Pa., to Louisiana for a prearranged, confidential adoption with the promise of paid medical bills, housing, food, maternity clothes and spending money for her and her boyfriend, Pruss said.

"We're going to surrender her probably sometime today," said Mike Walsh, Prejean's attorney. Walsh said Prejean "never has" worked for Gitelman.

Walsh said this morning he is arranging for Prejean's bond.

The only contact his client has had with Gitelman was by telephone, when she answered a call from him on the Pennsylvania case, Walsh said.

"Karen Prejean had the misfortune to answer the phone," he said.

Gitelman, who has been the target of investigations by agencies in Florida in connection with possible illegal adoptions during the past few years, had contacted the sheriff's office in Coral Springs Thursday to tell them he also would surrender himself today, Pruss said. Walsh said he understood this morning that Gitelman had turned himself in and had posted bond.

A warrant was issued for Prejean's arrest two months ago, just days after Dulik and her boyfriend, Mark Anthony Hager, 20, of Clarksville, Pa., traveled to Baton Rouge on Aug. 24, Pruss said.

At the same time, Pruss also issued an arrest warrant for Prejean's employer, attorney H. Michael Aaron, on the same charges. It was withdrawn and has not been reissued, Pruss said.

She said Dulik's living expenses in Baton Rouge were arranged by Prejean. Aaron was not charged because Dulik had no direct dealings with him, she said.

A warrant was not issued for Gitelman in August.

"The charges are groundless and result from an over-zealous district attorney's office in Pennsylvania," Walsh said. "We intend to fight extradition."

Walsh said Dulik had lied about her age in conversations with his client. "When Karen Prejean found out she was a minor, they immediately put her in touch with her parents" and made arrangements for the girl to return home, Walsh said.

"We're trying to prevent parents losing their children in Louisiana to smooth operators and their attorneys and associates," Pruss said.

Pruss said Gitelman placed classified ads in a Pennsylvania newspaper this summer, looking for pregnant women who wanted to give up their babies to a "young, Caucasian, well-educated, financially secure, happily married couple, unable to have children and desperately want to adopt a newborn."

The phone number in the ad was registered to a private adoption company called ASI Inc., 301 Cypress, in Lafayette.

"The ad suggests it's a loving couple placing this ad and to call this number. When you call the number you get Mr. Gitelman or an answering service," Pruss said.

Gitelman "isn't a loving, caring couple... His job is to locate the babies, and they're matched up, with the assistance of attorneys, with adoptive parents," she said.

Pruss said Gitelman charged fees of $10,000 to $30,000 to locate a baby. The prospective adoptive parents were responsible for the mother's living and medical expenses, transportation costs and out-of-pocket expenses.

Dulik began communicating with Gitelman in July after seeing an ad in the Herald-Standard of Uniontown, Pruss said.

She said Gitelman provided Dulik and Hager with airline tickets to Louisiana and promised her spending money, new maternity clothes and full coverage of hospital expenses.

Dulik's parents were not aware that she was five months pregnant or that she had planned to go to Louisiana, Pruss said.

The couple found their daughter a week later after talking to her friends and Pennsylvania authorities.

Hager was arrested in Baton Rouge the day Dulik was taken home by her parents. He was extradited to Pennsylvania and remains in jail there in lieu of $5,000 bond a charge of interfering with the custody of a minor, Pruss said.

Brenda Kelley, deputy assistant secretary of Louisiana's Office of Human Development, said Gitelman took advantage of a loophole in the state's adoption laws to arrange for up to 150 adoptions in a 15-month period ending in December 1986.

Most of those babies, she said, were sent to couples in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"It's been a two-year battle many of us have lived with daily," Kelley said.

Louisiana's law was revised effective Sept. 30 to make it illegal for an out-of-state mother and out-of-state adoptive couple to arrange adoptions in the state. Kelley said at least one of the two parties must have a history of residence in Louisiana. But law enforcement officials have said it isn't difficult to prove a person is a resident.

Coral Springs police said they investigated Gitelman about five years ago.

"I'm not surprised. Put it this way. I hope some other agency has more luck than we did," Sgt. Robert Behan, who acted as an undercover officer at the time, said Thursday of the Pennsylvania arrest warrant.

Behan said the state attorney's office called off the investigation because Florida law at the time was too vague.

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